By Sy Mukherjee
June 20, 2018

Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon, and Warren Buffett have made up their minds: Renowned surgeon and public health intellectual Dr. Atul Gawande will be the CEO of the Amazon-JPMorgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway health care joint venture, the three companies announced Wednesday.

Gawande may come as an unexpected choice to lead this new health care company, whose aim is to decrease health care costs and improve outcomes for the approximately one million employees in the triumvirate’s workforce. He practices general and endocrine surgery at the renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and is a researcher and professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Gawande has authored multiple critically acclaimed books on medicine, including Being Mortal, and penned thoughtful essays on the state of American health care in the New Yorker, for which he has been a staff writer since 1998.

Following the Amazon-JPM-Berkshire announcement, Gawande stated that he would continue his positions at Brigham and Women’s and Harvard and will keep writing for the New Yorker even as he takes the reins of the health venture on July 9. He will, however, step away from his role as executive director of Ariadne Labs—a company he founded that focuses on health care delivery with a global health-focused bent—to become its chairman.

“I’m thrilled to be named CEO of this health care initiative,” Gawande said in a statement. “I have devoted my public health career to building scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery that are saving lives, reducing suffering, and eliminating wasteful spending both in the US and across the world. Now I have the backing of these remarkable organizations to pursue this mission with even greater impact for more than a million people… As employers and as leaders, addressing health care is one of the most important things we can do for our employees and their families, as well as for the communities where we all work and live.”

The three member companies’ chief executives also lavished praise on Gawande.

“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Atul embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”

The appointment is an attention-grabbing one. But there are still many questions about what the Amazon-JPMorgan-Berkshire health company will look like or do to achieve its lofty goals (it doesn’t even have an official name yet, although it will be based in Boston).

In April, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon unveiled some preliminary details in his annual shareholder letter. “The effort will start very small, but there is much to do, and we are optimistic,” wrote Dimon, adding that the trio’s medical venture would focus on: aligning payment incentives with health outcomes; reducing waste and fraud; analyzing whether pricey drugs are either over-used or under-used; increasing employees’ easy access to personal health care data; and examining end-of-life care, which has the potential to be financially burdensome and ineffective for some.

Gawande has written extensively on many of those issues, and particularly on end-of-life care. “This is a modern tragedy, replayed millions of times over. When there is no way of knowing exactly how long our skeins will run—and when we imagine ourselves to have much more time than we do—our every impulse is to fight, to die with chemo in our veins or a tube in our throats or fresh sutures in our flesh,” he wrote in a 2010 New Yorker essay entitled “Letting Go.”

“The fact that we may be shortening or worsening the time we have left hardly seems to register.”

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